Friday, 16 June 2017
#WomanoftheHour #JaneLythell #Review
Meet Liz Lyon: respected TV producer, stressed out executive, guilty single mother.
Liz works at StoryWorld, the nation's favourite morning show. The opening section of the book concentrates on how Liz struggles to juggle that holy grail of the work and life balance. She lives with her teenage daughter; a fraught and strained relationship which means home is not always that much of a sanctuary after a long challenging day managing egos and office politics!
At work Liz is responsible for turning real life stories into thrilling TV while at the same time making sure that none of the scandal, gossip, competition and unpleasantness that is going on back stage finds it way in front of the camera. At times it feels as if the life Liz is leading is more sensational than the stories she researches which has got to reflect something ironic about the nature of our vicarious obsession with other people's dramas!
Liz is a likeable character. She is competent, successful, intelligent, focused but also flawed and the relationship with her daughter allows us to see another layer of her character. Making her a mother means we get to see her in a totally contrasting situation and a more emotional and softer light. Lythell's writing is so authentic and convincing that I could feel myself flopping on the sofa next to Liz and feeling her frustration, anxiety, concerns and exhaustion at the end of a long working day, topped off with the challenge of managing a loaded conversation with an angst ridden teen! Therefore I think by the time I got to the last page I was delighted to see the recipe for Liz's flapjacks and macaroni cheese! Liz loves comfort food and is particularly fond of cheese so it was a nice touch to see this added in the back pages.
Half way through the novel something happens which changes everything and irrevocably complicates Liz's life at work. It introduces a darker, more sinister theme into the novel, adds more tension and also raises questions about things that happen at work and the misuse or abuse of positions of responsibility. It also raises questions about women in the workplace. It adds a much more serious edge to Lythell's novel which again pushes Liz to become the person she has always had the potential to become.
On the surface this book seemed to be about career women and women in the office. Lythell's evocation of the TV studio and Liz's colleagues is very well established. The characters all feel three dimensional and are engaging. There are lots of novels that write about TV shows, office politics and working women but perhaps with a more comedic voice or with characters who are a little bit more caricatured. Woman of the Hour doesn't do this. It feels much more realistic and honest. Lythell captures the pace, stress, business, endlessness of that to-do list, the strain of having to please people, appease people and constantly find the strength to fight the feuds and disagreements over how the stories should be presented to the audience very well. The reader cannot help but feel empathy for Liz when she finally crashes on the sofa at the end of the day, utterly depleted!
But it is also a book about parenting and specifically motherhood. Liz is a single mother and so her relationship with her daughter Flo is one that is incredibly important to her but also means she has to deal with it on her own, as well as juggling her job. This book is about the worries of a mother, the want to guide, support, help and protect your child and the helplessness sometimes felt when you can't save them from their predicaments or know that only experience will let them understand why you are setting the boundaries you do. Motherhood and being a teenager are incredibly tricky roads to travel and Lythell has picked an interesting point in her characters lives. Events at work have a huge impact on Liz and ultimately affect the journey herself and Flo are travelling together.
This is a book about work, family and life. It is about things that affect us all or that we can all relate to. Lythell takes this as her premise and then develops it so not only is it about characters finding that strength and direction that they need but also testing and challenging them in order to force them to see more objectively who and what they are.
This is a well paced novel. It is well structured between the sessions at work and home. It has several threads to follow but they are all part of the main story arc. It feels contemporary, relevant and it is compelling. It captures the pressures woman are under in today's society.
Lythell comes from the world of television and it seems she has put this experience to good use in her novel. Her next book follows on from this and will be released in July 2017. I am looking forward to see what Lythell has in store for Liz and Flo next!
Woman of the Hour was published by Head of Zeus in Dec 2016.
My second novel AFTER THE STORM follows an English couple who get on a small boat with two American strangers to sail to an island after knowing them less then 24 hours. It has been described as Marine Noir.
My debut novel THE LIE OF YOU is a portrait of obsession to the point of madness in which a woman tries to destroy her colleague.
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